Skip to main content

Stillman Fires Collection: Tacoma Fire Dept

Topics need keyword

Footage of the Tacoma Narrows bridge wobbling and eventually, collapsing.

from Stillman Fires Collection.

Audio/Visual silent, b&w


Reviewer: Ed Elliott - - June 5, 2006
Subject: Tacoma Narrows Bridge
My father was Barney Elliott one of the motion picture photographers during the collapse. We have the film available on DVD and VHS if you are interested. The CAMERA SHOP 253-627-4159 or
Reviewer: Dee-1 - - March 25, 2006
Subject: Engineering evolution
I've always been fascinated by this even myself. It was shown in one of my engineering classes. One thing we have to keep in mind is that engineering is an ever evolving area. At the time, no one would have though to apply wind tunnel testing to a bridge or some of the more exotic methods.

It is quite possible that this bridge would have withstood hurricane force winds. The lower velocity winds that tore it apart hit a resonant frequency of the bridge. Winds of radically different speeds might very well have been no problem.
Reviewer: CoasterPete - - February 7, 2006
Subject: Surreal
I've seen short clips of this footage countless times before, and it's nice to find a "full" clip.

I watched it while listening to Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey by Paul McCartney. It's surreal enough silent but the addition of that song somehow made it "complete"!
Reviewer: Ja30fitz - - July 30, 2005
Subject: Like a bridge over troubled water...
This is a very fascinating little film. The footage of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsing in 1940 is truly a sight to see. I had been looking for this footage for several years, and I rarely got more than a small thatch of footage. Thanks to the Prelinger Archives, I have the whole thing!
Reviewer: smunnell - - July 30, 2005
Subject: Calling all high school physics teachers!
Want a teachable moment? Show this to your students when you are studying waves. Real life applications of oscillating waves in action are hard to find, but this movie will bring home the point.
Reviewer: Dave Zwerdling - - July 12, 2005
Subject: Leon Moisseiff
Indeed, this project was the high point and the termination of Leon Moisseiff's carrier. Excellent and very dramatic imagery. Second only to footage of Loma Prieta.
Reviewer: lambrettista - - May 24, 2005
Subject: A little tidbit
My grandfather was standing next to the man taking the final footage of the bridge falling. His friend Barney Elliot, my grandfather Hugh Whannell and Harbine Monroe raced down to get those shots. Barney owned several photomats and thus had the camera equipment. My grandmother was too slow getting ready and my grandfather left her at home. (She was plenty mad about that one).
Reviewer: peacetrain721 - - February 9, 2005
Subject: Bad Design
My teacher showed this film to us in 11th grade history class. It's one of the more exciting films that you'll see in school. Such a big project... I'd hate to be the guy that designed that bridge!
Reviewer: Steve Nordby - - August 29, 2004
Subject: Technological failure
There is another Prelinger film, _Your Chance to Live: Technological Failures_, that fails to point out real tech failures like this. I've been across the "new" Tacoma Narrows bridge many times (I think they are building another one to accomodate the traffic) and always think of this event as I've seen it on film. This film is the most complete I've seen: Construction and destruction.
Reviewer: trafalgar - - August 26, 2004
Subject: Wow!
Scary, intense, iconic footage of this very famous bridge collapse. The strangest part has to be the people calmly walking around, or standing on the bridge. Why aren't they running?!?
Reviewer: tetonjack - - February 23, 2004
Subject: My favorite movie
An engineer, this is my favorite movie. A postscript -- a group of engineers, including aerodynamicist and innovator Theodore von Karman, met to consider a replacement. von Karman, after whom is named the Karman vortex street (a series of eddies that makes flags flap, power lines gallop and such) knew that the periodic vortices were the problem. Civil engineers proposed to build the same bridge but stronger. He said [his book "The Wind and Beyond"] something like "If you build it the same, it will fall the same way. They thus modified the aerodynamics of the new bridge.
Reviewer: Spuzz - - January 2, 2004
Subject: Tacoma Bridge Is Falling Down!
Another great "Filling in the blanks" piece of footage as we see the infamous "wobbling bridge" footage but we see how that bridge was built, the opening ceremony and the aftermath! The Tacoma bridge is built, with some amazing and exciting footage of men dangling from cages to put the beast together, after a (of course) pompous bridge opening ceremony, Disaster strikes, as the bridge starts weaving to and fro, it's still pretty incredible to see such footage today. Soon, all of this bending causes the whole thing to fall apart and then we see some start remnants of what could have been. Gret, this is a MUST SEE SEE on this site! (mind you, what this has to do with the Tacoma Fire Department is anyone's guess)
Reviewer: Wilford B. Wolf - - August 16, 2003
Subject: Galloping Gertie
This is a very famous bit of film in the Pacific Northwest.

Between 1939 and 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge over the Puget Sound between Tacoma and Gig Harbor, Washington. Despite the engineers promise that the bridge would withstand hurricane force winds, the bridge quickly earned the nickname "Galloping Gertie" for its habit of swaying in even modern breezes.

Early on the morning of November 7, 1940, a moderate storm with gusts from 35 to 46 mph caused the bridge to sway three to five feet. The movement was so violent that the bridge was closed. Eventually, the amplification of the oscilations became so severe that the bridge eventually collapsed.

Besides being a famous event in the Northwest, this film is often used as an example for the consequences for not properly constructing a suspension bridge.

This film, compiled from news reels and amateur films, covers the construction, the opening ceremonies 01 July 1940 and the collapse of the bridge.
Prelinger Archives
by Unknown
Prelinger Archives
by Unknown
Prelinger Archives
by Audio Productions, Inc. (?)
( 1 reviews )
Prelinger Archives
( 1 reviews )
Prelinger Archives
Prelinger Archives
by McCrory (John R.) Studios